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DEMOLISHED - Clay Cross Foundry, Chesterfield, Derbyshire – Sept '08
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Arrow DEMOLISHED - Clay Cross Foundry, Chesterfield, Derbyshire – Sept '08 - 04-10-2008, 19:34

Clay Cross consists of an outer expanse of giant steel sheds, some empty, some piled with scrap and rubble. The steel cladding has been ripped off in great skelves, which rattle in the wind, but the best parts lie in the old heart of the complex, in a dark undercroft of grimy brick, with gunmetal-coloured moulding sand on the floor and a coating of blackness on everything. Even though most of the plant had been stripped out, enough remained to give these spaces lots of character. Happily, I managed to find casting patterns for valves and pipe unions which had been piled up to die in one of the more open sheds at the top of the site, as well as some of the Clay Cross Co’s bricks.

Located in the heart of the Derbyshire coalfields, Clay Cross was opened up on a large scale after the Derby – Leeds railway was built in the 1830's. The Clay Cross Company was founded in 1837 by George Stephenson (of railway fame) when he discovered a rich seam of coal and ironstone while digging a railway tunnel. Using nearby limestone deposits, he had all the raw ingredients needed for pig iron. Stephenson sank colliery workings and built 400 houses for his workers, using the company’s own bricks. When coal dropped in price, the company concentrated on coke and iron production, using bee-hive coke ovens located near the blast furnaces. These were replaced in 1903 by 50 Simplex By-Product coke ovens, and by the Great War, the company operated a brickworks, three blast furnaces, a foundry, coke ovens and gas plant, seven collieries, a lime works, a limestone quarry and ironstone mines. All the different functions complemented each other, and in today’s jargon, the Clay Cross Company was “vertically integrated.”

When collieries were nationalised in 1946, and the site at Clay Cross was vested in the National Coal Board, the Clay Cross Company (also known as “CXC”) contracted; later, due to a reduced need for pig-iron, the blast furnaces were demolished in 1959. This freed up space for expansion and two hot-blast cupolas then enabled the company to design a flow line for ductile iron pipes, complete with a narrow gauge railway system for moving large castings around. In 1974, the company was bought out by RMC, and eleven years later Clay Cross was bought by the Biwater Group who specialise in water treatment and hydraulic engineering. In September 2000, the workers were told that Biwater Industries (Clay Cross) Ltd. had been sold to Stanton, which is part of the French multinational Saint-Gobain. Three-quarters of an hour later, they were told the plant was to close altogether. The site at Clay Cross shut down a fortnight before Christmas, making over 700 people redundant.

The tragedy is that Biwater’s site at Clay Cross had an extensive order book and were a large exporter, and it looks very much like Saint-Gobain bought Biwater just to eliminate their only competitor. Until then, Stanton (formerly Stanton & Stavely plc) and Biwater were the last two producers of spun ductile iron pipes in Britain. In August 2008, redevelopment plans for the site were published, and these feature around 1,000 new homes, ten hectares of business park, plus some public open space – possibly including a country park. A remediation study was prepared, and the redevelopment will have to bear the £4.25m cost of cleaning up the site. Gulp. In today’s tough times, the site at Clay Cross may lie derelict for some time yet.

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